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In an article by Kumari Devarajan, we find out  the origin of the term, mmhmm .

Key Ideas:

"Once upon a time, English speakers didn't say "mmhmm." But Africans did, according to Robert Thompson, an art history professor at Yale University who studies Africa's influence on the Americas. In a 2008 documentary, Thompson said the word spread from enslaved Africans into Southern black vernacular and from there into Southern white vernacular. He says white Americans used to say "yay" and "yes." As for "mmhmm"? "That," he says, "is African."  

"When enslaved people spoke African languages, it often instilled fear in Southern plantation owners. That's according to John Rickford, a linguistics professor at Stanford University. He says plantation owners worried that the slaves were plotting against them. Because of that, slaves were forced to speak English exclusively. The African words slaves did preserve were ones that could pass as English — words that could "mask their ancestry," as Rickford puts it. But because those words sound like English, they can be difficult to identify as coming from African languages."    (Devarajan, 2016).

Gretchen McCulloch breaks down how fandoms concatenate character names in  A Linguist Explains the Grammar of Shipping.
Key Ideas:

“The first thing we need to look at is where the stressed syllable is in each name by itself. We want to make any syllables we use in the ship name keep their original stress, so that the link between the original name and the ship name is as obvious as possible.”  

“Well, ship names are part of a broader phenomenon of blends in English, from Lewis Carroll’s slithy (slimy and lithe) to why we have brunch and smog rather than leckfast and foke. But people don’t actually go around creating blends all that often—one delightful study of English blends looked at 63 of them, from the well-formed guesstimate, mansplaining, and sexpert to the baffling fozzle (fog+drizzle), brinkles (bed+wrinkles), and wonut (waffle+donut). But while 63 is quite a large corpus when it comes to real-life blends, it’s nothing when it comes to fandom: there’s more than that in ship names from the cast of Glee alone.”   (McCulloch, 2015)

Britt Peterson works in conjunction with Boston University linguist Daniel Erker to explain  How ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ are changing Bostonian Spanish.

Key Ideas:

“Erker’s paper focuses on pause fillers, those tiny unconscious blips of sound, “um” or “uh” in English. What he’s found is that, as the city’s Spanish-speakers study English and come into contact with different varieties of their own language, filled pauses are evolving.”  

“The folks who have lived 100 percent of their life in Boston almost never use ‘eh,’ ” Erker said. “They have abandoned that category and shifted to either ‘ah’ or ‘um.’ ” In other words the pause filler—a stutter or hum you barely hear—is introducing an entirely new and unfamiliar sound into a Spanish-speaker’s sound vocabulary, changing the sound of their speech and their range as an increasingly bilingual speaker. Erker thinks that “filled pauses are . . . a gateway for the schwa to enter.”   (Peterson, 2015)

A study from North Carolina State University on how  Appalachian students mask dialects in class.

Key Idea:

“Many participants said they felt they had to work harder to prove to others on campus that they are intelligent and capable, “despite” their dialects.”   (Dunstan, 2015)

Gretchen McCulloch gives  an explanation of vintage internet slang in relation to today’s digital world.

Key Ideas:

“[It] taught me what grammar-angry websites still miss out on: language changes, and that’s okay. Speaking informally isn’t being incorrect or lazy, but a deliberate and equally valid stylistic choice.”  

“I’ve learned to analyze language for myself, to experience the power and subtlety of internet language, to question the hoary old shibboleths invented by misguided 19th-century grammarians trying to make English into Latin. It’s because I’ve realized that what we consider “professional” language isn’t just a matter of boring, stuffy suits, but real ways in which we privilege the voices of people who’ve historically had the most power. It’s because I’ve found better techno-linguistic inspiration than any usage guide: now I talk about language as an open source project, a free lexicon that anyone can edit.”   (McCulloch, 2015)

Harvard cognitive scientist and linguist, Steven Pinker, challenges the grammar narrative brought to us by various grammar and style guides with   10 Popular Grammar Myths Debunked by a Harvard Linguist.

Key Idea:

“Neologisms also replenish the lexical richness of a language, compensating for the unavoidable loss of words and erosion of senses. Much of the joy of writing comes from shopping from the hundreds of thousands of words that English makes available, and it’s good to remember that each of them was a neologism in its day.”   (Pinker, 2015)

In  Dear Pedants: Your Fave Grammar Rule is Probably Fake, Chi Luu discusses prescriptivism.

Key Ideas:

“It is indeed important to learn the accepted linguistic conventions of the standard dialect for reasons of communication, clarity and even persuasive style. But it happens to be a historically privileged dialect and is not inherently linguistically better than other, non-standard dialects of English.”  

“Many of these pop grammar rules, that are still seriously taught in schools and universities and even promoted (and inevitably violated) in style guides, were magically pulled out of thin air by a handful of 18th and 19th century prescriptive grammarians. They’re totally made up grammar myths, that somehow gained a superficial, high prestige status among the public and are repeated as fact ad nauseam.”  
(Luu, 2015)

One of our favorite linguistic bloggers, Gretchen McCulloch, brings us the   The Back to School Linguistics Resources Roundup.

Key Sources:

Eight Myths About Language and Linguistics  
How to Remember the IPA Vowel Chart

Meagan Campbell documents new developments in Canadian dialects that resemble “Valley Girl” speech in  Sah-ry, eh? We’re in the Midst of the Canadian Vowel Shift.

Key Idea:

“’We’re in the middle of a transformation,’ says Paul De Decker, a sociolinguist at Memorial University of Newfoundland. ‘Our vowels are getting higher and backer in the mouth, and it’s more widespread, more diverse than we initially thought.’”   (Campbell, 2015)

Britt Peterson of the Boston Globe converses with Yale linguist, Jim Wood, regarding Bostonian English in his piece,  ‘So don’t I, from Shakespeare to modern New England.

Key Idea:

“According to Wood, although the construction is often taken as an example of a contronym—words that mean the same as their opposite—it has a subtly different, rather complex function. It’s often used to correct a false assumption that you might not agree with the speaker.”

Maya Kaufman of CBS News reports on the growing need for forensic linguistics in  Language detectives make the web less anonymous.

Key Ideas:

“Forensic linguistics is the application of linguistics, or the study of language, to the law. Forensic linguists examine language to identify patterns or distinctive traits in the author’s style or decipher meaning and intention.”  

“In this murky and often deceptive digital environment, proponents say forensic linguistics may hold a key to unveiling who’s behind malicious, anonymous posts by using the one thing they leave in the open: their words.”   (Kaufman, 2015)